by Caryl Matrisciana
Yoga is experiencing a renaissance worldwide. What has brought about this phenomenon? Classic Hinduism is not missionary minded in the same sense as Christianity. Christian missionaries share their faith and carry on humanitarian work, but Hindu missionaries only proselytize.
This difference is generated by the diametrically opposed beliefs of the two religions. Yogic spirituality aims at enabling an individual to save himself by recognizing he is “God” and thus shortening his reincarnation cycles. But while Hindus seek to win the world to their religion, humanitarian ideas actually conflict with Hinduism’s teaching on karma. Karma dictates that one’s shortcomings and sufferings are due to what one has done in previous lives. To help people improve themselves through medicine or education is, in essence, to tinker with their karma.
When the British ruled India, they were still part of a Christian commonwealth. The influence of Christianity upon their society caused them to introduce in India the unheard of practice of serving the community by building hospitals and schools. As a result, there are still in India today many community-based programs borrowed from the biblical model of caring for widows, orphans, the sick and the needy.
Hindu purists, however, such as members of VHP [Vishwa Hindu Parishad, meaning World Hindu Counciland], RSS [VHP-sponsored Rashtriya Swayam Sevak], oppose allowing India’s people to follow any other faith and attempts to improve the desperate plight of the poor. To help soften the cruelty of Hinduism, part of its new missionary strategy to reach the West was to market Yoga as a self-realization program that can solve all of life’s problems.
But what do Western missionaries of Hinduism look like? Do they dress in saffron robes like the Hare Krishnas? Not at all. Every Yoga teacher in the West has become a missionary of Hinduism, often unwittingly. These 70,000 instructors in more than 20,000 locations across America alone, who teach millions of people Yoga, come from all walks of life.1
In addition to the thousands of Yoga instructors, the heads of business corporations, hospitals, and educational facilities are all missionaries to Hinduism as well. These unsuspecting representatives of the Hindu religion–most who would never think of promoting Bible studies or Christian values as a positive alternative in the workplace–are aggressive missionaries for Eastern mysticism today.
These authority figures claim Yoga’s benefits include reduction of stress and burnout, and increased concentration and self-confidence for pregnant women, business people, and senior citizens.
Thus, Nike, HBO, Forbes, Apple, and scores of other Fortune 500 companies offer classes on Yoga meditation as a regular employee benefit. Hospitals promote Yoga programs as alternative medical therapy to reduce blood pressure and benefit the heart. YMCAs and YWCAs offer Hatha Yoga as physical education. Health spas adapt Yoga as wellness programs and relaxation techniques, and urban health clubs across the country offer Yoga classes in response to demand. TV presents Yoga as physical fitness exercises.
Google.com displays over 100,000,000 pages on the subject of Yoga. A simple search on Amazon.com pulls up some 18,700 books on Yoga. Some outlet store websites, like Target’s, offer thousands of Yoga products. It is no wonder that Yoga is nearly a six billion dollar a year industry. How ironic that a belief system that has deeply impoverished so many in India has become such a lucrative trade.
Clearly, the missionary objective to make the ancient philosophy of Hindu Yoga a part of mainstream Western culture has succeeded. (from Out of India, chapter 14)
1. “A Growing Profession: 70,000 Yoga Teachers Estimated by NAMASTA, North American Studio Alliance” (NAMASTA press resources, April 12, 2005, http://www.namasta.com/pressresources.php).